Eight people have been killed and hundreds wounded, but the latest bloody chapter in Egypt’s unhappy recent history is about to draw to a close: this Sunday a referendum will be held on the proposed new constitution, and that, presumably, will be the end of that. And what it will most likely herald is the end of the brief era of any meaningful voting in Egypt, and of any hope on the part of women and Egyptian Christians for equality of rights before the law.
Underlining the claim that to oppose their rule is to oppose Islam itself, the Muslim Brotherhood of President Mohammed Morsi will rally in favor of the constitution at a Cairo mosque near the presidential palace on the day of the vote. Liberals, secularists, and Christians will rally against the constitution on the same day in Tahrir Square.
They’re against it because, as the Associated Press reported, the draft constitution “largely reflects the conservative vision of the Islamists, with articles that rights activists, liberals and Christians fear will lead to restrictions on the rights of women and minorities and civil liberties in general.” They have every reason to fear, for the constitution reflects in numerous particulars Sharia restrictions on their rights.
Unfortunately, it appears unlikely that their cause will succeed: the constitution is likely to go through, and with it will come Sharia and the dictatorial powers that Morsi recently claimed for himself and then renounced under pressure.
This has been a long time coming, but its coming has been unmistakable to any objective observer. The “Arab Spring” was never about democracy and pluralism, despite the hosannahs of the Western press; it was always about imposing Islamic law upon Egypt. And now, with the new constitution, Egypt is at the brink. AP noted that the constitution’s wording “could give Islamists the tool for insisting on stricter implementation of rulings of Shariah.”
Also, “the draft contains no article specifically establishing equality between men and women because of disputes over the phrasing. However, it maintains that a woman must balance her duties toward family and outside work, suggesting that she can be held accountable if her public role conflicts with her family duties. No such article is mentioned for men.”
The implications for women’s rights are as obvious as they are unsurprising in light of Sharia’s reduction of women to the status of little more than commodities, slaves of the men who own them.
Then there are numerous articles heralding the introduction of Sharia restrictions on the freedom of speech. Islamic law forbids criticism of Islam, Muhammad and the Qur’an, and the constitution duly contains an article that “bans insulting or defaming the prophet and messengers.” And it doesn’t stop there. Another article bans “insulting humans,” suggesting authoritarian restrictions on criticism of political leaders, and yet another “underlines that the state will protect ‘the true nature of the Egyptian family … and promote its morals and values,’” about which AP notes: “phrasing that is vague and suggests state control over the contents of such arts forms as books and films.”
Nor is any of this likely to be contested in a future vote if this constitution passes Sunday. Once Islamic law comes to Egypt, it will come to stay, until the Egyptians themselves are so tired of its inhuman authoritarianism that another period of liberalization ensues. But that could be decades in the future. In the meantime, Sharia is much more compatible with dictatorship than it is with republican, representative government. That’s why Sunday’s vote could be the last one that matters in Egypt.
The prophet of Islam, Muhammad, is said to have counseled what appears to be unconditional obedience to rulers: “You should listen to and obey your ruler even if he was an Ethiopian (black) slave whose head looks like a raisin” (Bukhari 9.89.256). Nor is he recorded as having set up any kind of voting system or representational government for the nascent Muslim community – and as he is the supreme model for emulation for Muslims (cf. Qur’an 33:21), that is a decisive point.
The great theorist of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966), foresaw a titanic struggle between Islam and jahiliyyah, the society and rule of unbelievers: “Islam cannot accept any mixing with Jahiliyyah. Either Islam will remain, or Jahiliyyah; no half-half situation is possible. Command belongs to Allah, or otherwise to Jahiliyyah; Allah’s Shari’ah will prevail, or else people’s desires: ‘And if they do not respond to you, then know that they only follow their own lusts. And who is more astray than one who follows his own lusts, without guidance from Allah? Verily! Allah guides not the people who are disobedient’[Qur’an 28:50]; ‘Do they then seek the judgment of (the Days of) Ignorance? And who is better in judgment than Allah for a people who have firm faith’ [Qur’an 5:50]. The foremost duty of Islam is to depose Jahiliyyah from the leadership of man, with the intention of raising human beings to that high position which Allah has chosen for him.”
The day of that supposed deposition, and subsequent exaltation, is looming in Egypt.
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